Here we go again.
For the Hartland girls basketball team, tonight’s game with Howell will mark the second time in a row the Eagles will play someone for the third time this season.
The last time, less than two week ago, the Eagles clinched the KLAA West with a 33-28 victory.
Tonight, the Lakes Conference title is at stake at Hartland High School, with the winner playing in Thursday’s KLAA championship at either Wayne or Novi.
“I don’t think a lot has changed,” Hartland coach Don Palmer said. “I think they have three players who can impact a game, and we have to stop two of those three. The others can’t have an impact.”
You could say Howell could claim the same strategy, except that coach Tim Olszewski isn’t worried about Hartland.
“We don’t want to put too much emphasis on what they’re doing as much as taking care of our own house,” he said. “Just work on our stuff. Put our energy into things we control and let the game play out. We’re going to worry about ourselves and see what happens.”
The first meeting between the teams was a 48-28 blowout that surprised Palmer almost as much as it stunned Olszewski. Hartland’s defense that night involved point guard Michelle Moraitis, who runs cross country in the fall, chasing Howell counterpart Lexie Miller throughout the game.
The strategy worked. Miller had just three points and the Highlanders never recovered.
“The second game we got the ball to Lexie a lot more, she was the high scorer (12 points) and we were able to do some things that freed her up,” Olszewski said. “But having that kind of player (Moratis) backed up by all of their length definitely causes problems.”
The length, in this case, comes in the form of 6-2 freshman Whitney Sollom, 5-11 Emily Messner and 5-10 Lexey Tobel.
The teams are both among the best in the state. Hartland is 17-1 and Howell 16-2, the losses at the hands of Hartland.
“I’m confident that the team that plays closest to a perfect game is going to win,” Olszewski said. “You have teams that are very disciplined and have very talented ballplayers on them, and the question is: Who’s going to have the toughness to grind it out for 32 minutes, or more than 32 minutes?
“It’s going to be a battle between two really good teams,” he added, “and the team that makes fewer mistakes is going to win.”
“It comes down to two things,” Palmer said. “Defense and rebounding. It’s always the common denominator.”